Thursday, October 1, 2009

San Francisco Day 4 or "Leaping Menageries and French Deliciousness"

Our second day in Napa started out by Bry and I driving another way into Napa so we could see Sonoma Valley on the way. Sonoma has such a dynamic landscape, we both thought it was much better to go this way, over the Golden Gate Bridge, than over the Bay Bridge as we did the first day. Our agenda for day two was: Frog's Leap Winery, followed by Grgich Winery, lunch at Bouchon, then Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.

I had made reservations for the tour and tasting at Frog's Leap on the recommendation from the NY Times. Before going on the tour, I didn't hold Frog's Leap in very high regards, but afterwards, I consider it, one of my favorite wineries and wines. We met our tour guide Rachel in a beautiful house that was relatively new to the vineyard. It had huge windows facing out onto an organic garden and vases of flowers and straw hats dotted the rooms throughout. The tour began with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Rutherford in the dining room of the home. It was crisp and lovely. Rachel took us then outside to get a better view of the vineyard and gardens and gorgeous mountain view. She explained to us that Frog's Leap is an organic and biodynamic vineyard (it's LEED certified). Frog's Leap also believes in "dry farming", this means that the vineyard does not use a drip irrigation system to water it's vines. This causes the vines to grow their roots deeper into the soil, some 22 feet (this is the same method used in France but those roots reach 100 feet deep). Not only does this make the vine stronger but it enables the farmer to till the soil around the vine 4 ft deep. Drip irrigated vines have shallow roots and root balls and if you were to till around them, the roots be ripped apart. Not being able to use a tiller creates the problem of weeds for the farmer so they resort to weed killers, chemicals, and other non-organic fertilizers (since the weed killers destroy the good bacteria in the soil too). On top of all this, since the root system is more shallow, the vine is not as strong and therefor needs to be replaced every 13 years or so whereas the organic deep-rooted vine can live up to 80 years before being replanted. This is one of the reasons why Frog's Leap can produce more consistent, cheaper wine that some of it's competitors. Since each vine costs 1000 bucks to replace (yes, $1000....I didn't type that wrong) other vineyards must mark-up their wine to cover the cost of the replanting as well as their expensive oak barrels that they use (again, these cost $1000 a barrel). Since Frog's Leap is organic, they do not want to mask the flavor of their wine at all so use the oak barrels for about 8 years before they replace them which give a much more subdued oaky taste then brand new barrels and again this causes the wine to be cheaper in price as well.
Each of the Frog's Leap wines were delicious (besides the Sauvignon Blanc, we had a Zinfandel from Napa Valley and Merlot from Rutherford) but the one that really stood out was their 2005 Rutherford wine. At $75 a bottle, it's about half the cost as other wines that taste just as good. The Rutherford wine comes from a single vineyard run by Frog's Leap but owned by a guy that everyone lovingly refers to as Uncle Joe. The tasting and tour at Frog's Leap is only 15 dollars and is worth every last penny. The property, our tour guide, and of course, the wine were all just fantastic.

After Frog's Leap, we headed over to Grgich Hills. Grgich is known for their whites because the man who started the winery Mike Grgich was the wine maker who was at Chateau Montelena when it won the Judgement of Paris in 1976. Needless to say, the Chardonnay and Fume Blanc we tasted were both excellent (as were the reds: a Zinfandel and Cab) but the most amazing part of our tasting was that Mike Grgich was actually there and he signed a bottle of his Fume Blanc for us! I was in happier than a pig in mud. This bottle will definitely be my favorite souvenir of Napa.

After all that excitement, we needed a break so we headed over to Yountville for lunch at Bouchon. Bouchon is owned by Thomas Keller, one of the top, if not the top, chefs in America. Keller owns the French Laundry but since reservations there are nearly impossible, many settle for his more casual, French bistro-style restaurant Bouchon. Bouchon is wonderfully appointed, it's a relaxed Napa-infused French bistro atmosphere where palm trees dominate the dining room and warm reds and tiled floors make diners smile with delight. The food is perfect. Simple but truly delicious. The menu is printed on butcher paper that's folded up and wrapped around your napkin.

After reviewing the menu, I ordered the Boudin Blanc, a white sausage with potato puree and French prunes. Bry ordered the Gigot d'Agneau, a roasted leg of lamb with merguez sausage, braised kale, crispy polenta, pearl unions, and lamb jus. As a side we ordered the Macaroni au Gratin (no translation needed). We were served bread in the shape of a wheat stock which we thought was super cool. The bread was good but we both thought it was slightly a bit too crusty. My sausage was delicious and it was so nice to know that the actual sausage was made right on the property and not store bought and just thrown on the grill. (It's good to note that near Bouchon, and across from the French Laundry, Thomas Keller has a vegetable garden where he grows many of his ingredients. Anyone is welcome to walk around and take in the sites and smells) The prunes and potato puree were excellent as well. Bryan said his lamb was very tender and flavorful, they told him it would be rare but when it came out Bryan said he could have had it a bit more rare. He thought the fried polenta was the most intriguing for him (he's southern) and that everything worked very well together.

For dessert, we ordered the profiteroles which came with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and the special which was a "bouchon". Many times, when you order profiteroles, the puff is not tasty and you end up enjoying the ice cream the most...the puff becoming just an after-thought. What I liked about these profiteroles was that the puff was so fresh and not chewy. The bouchon was three small chocolate cakes (similar in texture to a brownie)shaped like a wine cork that were served with mint ice cream, chocolate sauce, a champagne gastrique, and a wisp of solid chocolate. These bouchons were delicious. They were warm and soft in the middle and with the gastrique sauce (which I can't even begin to explain) combined with the mint ice cream (that tasted like real mint!) was the perfect end to a perfect meal.

With a full belly and wonderful memories we headed back into San Francisco; another day beautifully spent.

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